The Critical Path #86: Staying Foolish

Questions for Tim Cook; a brief look at the grammar of the organization; Xbox One vs. the Spruce Goose and how to avoid knowing too much.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #86: Staying Foolish.

  • graphex

    Off topic…on the next CP, can you update us on fasting vs. jet lag? Thanks.

  • This will get lost in the previous thread.

    I think this is your #1 question:

    “Walt: When you guys did the iPod, Steve joked it was good to have products that was above five percent share. One of the things you did was to create a range of iPods, not just last year’s model. In one famous moment, that you probably were involved in, you killed off the mini. You just killed it and brought in the nano. You wound up with this whole range of things. You haven’t done that with the iPhone.” -Ref:

    • JohnDoey

      Tim Cook’s answer:


      There is no rush. Nobody else is reinventing the $150 or $300 phone either. They are just copying iPhone in cardboard, like netbooks waiting for the iPad.

  • Andrew

    Speaking of the Spruce Goose, and other airplanes –
    a successful and innovative manufacturing operation is described in the book Skunk Works, by Ben Rich and Leo Janos. Rich was the head of the small, long-lasting group of engineers, designers, and machinists who worked at Lockheed, and built amazing airplanes for the CIA and the US Air Force.

    You will find many, many anecdotes and examples of disruption, defeating bureaucracy, organizational leadership, and other themes that you like to describe.

  • poke

    I think the difference between divisional and functional structure can be seen by looking at what it means to be good in a given role. It’s almost impossible to define what it means to be a good “head of the iPod division” without reference to sales or profits. But you can be a good engineer or a good designer with only reference to products (and the same measure applies to teams and team leaders).

    It’s also not the case that what is good for a division is good for the company (or for another division) – there will always be conflicts to resolve and hence politics – whereas I can’t conceive of how being a good engineer or a good designer could ever come into conflict with the goals of the company. (I take it that, say, a designer who has no concern for costs or practicality is simply a bad designer.)

    • pixelfunk

      But for an organization to be successful it is the coordination between these functions that is arguably more important than the quality of the resources themselves. This mean the the center of the org chart is Apple’s case is the great conductor that provides this coordination. However, at some point the business gets too complex for one person to understand at a level that allows them to be a great conductor. To avoid this you need to be ruthless about maintaining focus on a very limited number of products and markets. This is difficult because the natural pressure of growth pushes against these limits. Question for Apple – are they starting to get too complex for one person to conduct the orchestra?

  • Bill Esbenshade

    Horace – Was just wondering whether Apple had a divisional or a functional structure during John Sculley’s tenure as CEO. Do you or any Asymco readers know?

    • Of course there is no data on the subject but I’ve heard (citation required) that after Jobs left, the plan was to change into a divisional organization. No idea how far it went.

  • DesDizzy

    Horace – Listened to CP #86 today out in the garden sunshine. Excellent podcast and might be your best to date. The Verb Vs. Noun/Function Vs. Business Unit was particularly brilliant (as with all brilliant concepts it seems blindingly obvious once posited). I think this is definitely worth further exploration, and hopefully professionals that have worked for tech/non-tech large corporates will be able to help out with their experience.

    It would seem to me to follow from your observation that if you work functionally, then you have nothing in particular invested in a particular product line and therefore a new/disruptive product can often be sexier than an existing product. Whereas within a business unit this is not going to be the case.

    Look forward to more empirical evidence on this. But certainly from my experience, having worked for a number of large organisation within the financial sector. The degree of corporate damage that follows business unit politics is not to be underestimated.